Tag Archives: di matteo

Ninety Minutes From The Sack

Last week, Manchester United unveiled a statue of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Bronze-Fergie’s hands are di matteofolded across bronze-Fergie’s chest, and while bronze-Fergie seems to be missing flesh-Fergie’s legendary watch, the sculptor looks to have done a pretty accurate job. Ferguson has coached United for more than 25 years. In that time, ten Liverpool managers have come and gone. Among the top English clubs (sorry, Everton), only Arsenal has a coach whose longevity rivals Sir Alex’s, and even he trails Fergie by a decade.

Ferguson is the last survivor of a dying era. Last month, Mark Hughes of Queens Park Rangers and Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea were both fired after less than a year at their respective clubs. Hughes’ sacking came after a disappointing start to QPR’s season, but Chelsea won the Champions League earlier this year, and, at the time of Di Matteo’s dismissal, was only four points off the top of the Premier League. The team was also playing attractive football, which, for Chelsea – a club whose blunt, bullying, borderline-racist players[1] have been intimidating the West Broms of this world for about seven years – is not so much highly unusual as highly suspicious.

At least 90 percent of Di Matteo’s downfall had more to do with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his bizarre, illogical management than it did with Di Matteo himself. Abramovich is an entertainingly shady Russian billionaire whose penchant for firing managers who probably don’t deserve to be fired has turned him into a bit of a cartoon enemy. There are probably lots of kind, humble Chelsea supporters who are deeply ashamed of their inability to hate Abramovich, and who spend at least a couple of minutes each day pondering this moral failure[2]. Without Ambramovich, Chelsea wouldn’t fire managers on a regular basis: his bizarre egomania forces the sackings, and his billions fund the big severance checks that departing managers take with them as a sort of consolation prize[3]. But remove Ambramovich from the equation, and Chelsea is a mid-table team. The Stamford Bridge faithful is obligated to love him.

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The Beautiful Weirdness of the Community Shield

Every August, one week before Premier League kickoff, the previous season’s FA Cup winner faces off against the reigning league champion in the FA Community Shield. Manchester United has won the annual curtain-raiser 19 times, more often than any other team, but Sir Alex Ferguson, who engineered half of those triumphs, doesn’t consider it a legitimate trophy. (Then again, Fergie can afford to dismiss ten victories; he’s the game’s most decorated coach.) The Community Shield is probably the most ambiguous thing football has ever produced, and, in a sport that still hasn’t settled the handball rule, that’s saying something.

Originally, the Community Shield wasn’t the Community Shield at all; it was the Sheriff of London Charity Shield, and instead of pitting two money-grubbing big-time teams against each other in a sponsored-by-McDonald’s spectacle, it served as a 90-minute diplomatic necessity, fought between a team from the Amateur Football Association and one of its professional counterparts. Scottish whiskey distiller Baron Dewar, an early promotional expert who also founded the Theatrical Sports Five Miles Cycling Championship Shield, is credited with conceiving the event. The first-ever Sheriff of London Charity Shield match finished in a tie: at the end of regulation, Sheffield United (the professional representative) and Corinthians (the amateur representative) had each scored a single goal. With United unwilling to play extra time, the two teams elected to “share” the six-foot trophy. It was all a far cry from Mickey D’s.

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Fearsome Chelsea Prepare for the Future

Marko Marin is not an elfin warrior. The pint-sized, blond German international may look more like an extra from a Lord of the Rings movie than a professional footballer, but his flashy talents have nothing to do with Middle Earth. Indeed, from the point of view of Chelsea’s many rivals, Marin and his fellow new signings, Oscar and Eden Hazard, are a little too real; their arrival at Stamford Bridge marks the beginning of an aggressive new era.

Over the past three seasons, Manchester City’s owners have routinely outperformed Roman Abramovich in the indulgent-spending stakes. That gradual power shift culminated in City’s Premier League title success. Now Abramovich is biting back.

While City triumphed in England last season, Chelsea saved their champagne for the Champions League final. The Blues’ undeserved yet brilliantly cathartic penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich — in Bayern’s home stadium, no less — capped a turbulent season replete with managerial controversy and several dressing-room revolts. Many critics dismissed Chelsea’s triumph, however, claiming the team had won the tournament by “parking the bus” and playing “catenaccio” (By the way, this is one of my pet peeves. Catenaccio is not a synonym for “defensive.” It is a system built around a sweeper and man-marking, two tactical devices that are almost obsolete in modern football). Some even went as far as to blame Di Matteo’s Italian ancestry.

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